If ever I did something that I thought I might go to hell for, one day, something that more than 40 years later I am still deeply ashamed of when I remember it, this is one.
The reason I am writing about it now is that it illustrates a point, vividly.
I did learn something from it. Perhaps I was destined to learn that lesson. Maybe it was only so that I would speak about it now, so maybe others will think about it too.
I had a bit of an unstable childhood, due to circumstances that were nobody’s fault, just unfortunate. As a consequence, I was moved around a lot between various places, and between my mother and grandmother.
In one of the places that I lived with my mother, bless her soul, I kept some white mice. I was 11 or 12 years old. I can’t remember where they came from in the first place. I guess my mum must have gave them to me. They lived in a little cage with a wheel, that they could run on.
They had to live in the attic, the only place that the owner of the place we were living in at the time would allow them to stay.
There were two, at first.
I guess they were a boy and a girl, because before long there were many.
Too many in fact, to keep living in the cage. So I improvised another place for them to live, in the drawer of an old wooden desk, of the kind that the whole heavy desktop lid hinges up, opening a wide recess to keep books and things inside.
It didn’t have a wheel. And it didn’t have any kind of windows. But it was big enough to house them all, and had plenty of gaps around the hinges and edges to give air. I put some bedding for them in there, changing it every few days, just as I had done with the cage, feeding them and filling their water bottle every day. There were about 14 of them by then.
Then an upset happened. My mum was taken into hospital. I was moved to my grandmother’s house about 5 miles away. The mice didn’t come with me.
It was about a week later that I realised they had been overlooked in the traumatic move. I remember thinking naively that someone would have made sure they were OK. I got on my bike immediately and cycled over to get them.
When I opened the desk and looked in, there was only one in there, looking up at me. Damn, how had the others escaped? I looked all round the desk, but could find no evidence of a hole they might have somehow chewed or clawed through to get out.
Then I looked again inside the desk and saw a detached paw, amongst the bedding. And then another. Then a tail. Then more paws. And more tails.
With stomach churning, I realised the truth.
The one left was the survivor of a cannibal feast.
Every one of them bar this one had been eaten, probably alive, by a brother, a sister, mother, father, son, or daughter.
All of its brothers and sisters, fighting to the death with one another. In the dark, and finally with it, losing.
And it was my fault.
I took the survivor back to my grandmother’s house again, in the cage with a wheel, with new straw, feeding and watering it. It didn’t run in the wheel though, not once. It hardly moved from one corner of the cage. Then it too died a few days later.
Maybe some serious internal harm happened to it as a result of the hunger, or maybe it was just sick at how badly life had turned out for it. Who knows.
I never kept any white mice again.
I think about that event now and then, every time I see or hear about white mice, but also sometimes when I see how life seems to work for us too.
When push comes to shove, we start eating one another.
In fact, even worse, we in the richer parts of the world are eating others in the poorer parts of the world, all of the time, all through our lives.
I mean that sort of metaphorically of course. But the brutal fact is; we live consuming resources that most often come from poorer parts of the world, whilst the people there die, either directly from lack of resources, or fighting for them, or just being killed for them.
In our streets we see homeless. They strive to stay alive, eventually dying in sleeping bags and tents, whilst the more fortunate of us sleep in warm beds at night, spending each day variously striving to build capital, or maybe just trying to avoid ending up in the street ourselves.
Each of us lives at the expense of every other. This situation is not that different from the mice. If we take it to its theoretical logical conclusion, one day, there will just be one person left on the planet.
Just like the white mice.
And yet, it doesn’t need to be like that. We don’t live in a cage with someone handing us our resources from outside. We know that the world is not really a “zero sum” game.
We have incredible knowledge and technology which absolutely can be used in a systematic collaborative way that adds true value to humanity and the world. It just needs to be designed to do so, instead of being designed to make profit.
If you’ve read and understood the VRENAR CEO spec, you will know what I mean.
We can actually be the modern humans we aspire to be, instead of just more white mice, if we put our human heads together, and use our human initiative, to get on with the human job that needs doing.